Claim more than 700,000 Scots on NHS waiting list is Half True 5

Claim more than 700,000 Scots on NHS waiting list is Half True

The performance of the NHS in Scotland is always a talking point for opposition politicians, and Labour leader Anas Sarwar has regularly attacked the Scottish Government’s record. 

One criticism he levelled at the Scottish Government and First Minister is the number of people on NHS waiting lists in Scotland. During his speech at the Labour Party conference he repeated a claim that more than 700,000 people in Scotland are currently waiting for treatment.

more than 700,000 Scots on an NHS waiting list – that is 1 in 7 waiting for appointments and treatment.

Anas Sarwar

Ferret Fact Service looked at this claim and found it Half True.

Claim more than 700,000 Scots on NHS waiting list is Half True 6


Waiting lists in Scotland’s NHS are collated and published by Public Health Scotland on a quarterly basis. 

The data is split between diagnostics and in or out-patient treatment, with waiting time targets and standards set by the Scottish Government. 

For diagnostic waiting times, data on eight key tests is gathered: lower endoscopy, colonoscopy, cystoscopy, CT Scan, MRI Scan, barium studies, and non-obstetric ultrasound. 

The latest figures up to the end of June 2022 show that 157,289 people were waiting to be seen for one of these eight key tests, an increase of 1.2 per cent on the previous quarter and 77.9 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels. 

The data also shows 451,020 patients were waiting to be seen as a new out-patient. This is 7.1 per cent higher than the previous quarter and 46.4 per cent higher than the average before the Covid-19 pandemic.

New in-patient or day cases are part of a different target so are counted separately. Up to the end of June 2022, 139,584 were waiting to be admitted for treatment.

Combining these three waiting time figures comes to 747,893.

However, Public Health Scotland told FFS it advises against combining these waiting list numbers, as it is possible the same patient can appear on more than one list as part of their overall treatment.

It is accurate to say that Scots are waiting for more than 700,000 appointments, but we cannot say for sure how many different people there are.

How long are patients waiting for tests and treatment?

The NHS in Scotland has various targets for how long a person should wait before receiving diagnosis or treatment. 

The Scottish Government’s waiting time standard for being seen for one of the key diagnostic tests is no more than six weeks. According to the latest statistics, 52.5 per cent of people were waiting longer than that time. 

More than 50 per cent (50.9) of new out-patients had been waiting 12 weeks or less for treatment, while the figures for in-patients and day cases showed 68.5 per cent of them had been waiting longer than the legal standard of 12 weeks.

It is clear that Covid-19 has had an impact on waiting list size and waiting times, with every measure performing significantly worse since before the pandemic. 

In its latest report on waiting times statistics, Public Health Scotland stated: “Covid-19 is still affecting provision and availability of services with subsequent waves of infection resulting in reduced capacity, for example due to increased staff absence and higher demand from emergency departments and inpatient wards. 

“During these periods there is often a requirement to prioritise and treat only those patients with the most urgent clinical needs.”

Sarwar went on to state that one in seven Scots were on an NHS waiting list in Scotland. According to National Records of Scotland’s latest estimate, there were 5,479,900 people in Scotland in June 2021, and Scots were waiting for a total of 747,893 NHS appointments for diagnostics, in-patient, out-patient and day cases.

This would equate to about one in seven people in Scotland, but we can’t be sure how many people are double counted in the statistics.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Half True

It is accurate to say that Scots are waiting for more than 700,000 appointments in the NHS, but we can’t be sure how many different people that includes, as it is possible that some people will appear on more than one list. Across diagnostic, in-patient, out-patient and day case patients there were 747,893 on waiting lists, according to the latest quarterly statistics covering the end of June 2022.

This claim is half true.

Photo credit: iStock/rajurahman85.

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